The time is now. With one-third of the United States' carbon footprint auto-related, there has never been a greater need for transportation methods to augment the automobile. And there has never been a greater drive to secure those alternatives in municipalities throughout America. More than 850 American cities have made carbon-neutral commitments, with the number growing every day. Even more cities have applied for funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in categories like Community Development Block Grants and Energy Efficiency Category that have set aside billions in potential funds for alternative transportation infrastructure. Transportation authorities have an opportunity to overcome problems that have plagued cities for decades — traffic congestion, dependence on foreign oil, air and noise pollution and their impact on efficiency, economics and health. Just as the decisions made about automobiles and highway systems in the 1950s have determined the infrastructure of the United States ever since, the decisions made today about alternative transportation will affect the American way of life for years to come. What’s required is the will — and a plan.
Picture the new American lifestyle. A businessman leaves his home in the morning on his bicycle or electric scooter for the nearby transit station. He leaves his cycle in a secure parking facility that he accesses with a universal fare card. He puts his bike helmet in his locker, asks the repairman to take a look at his rear tire, and gets on the light rail using the same fare card.
At his stop he walks to his office. But later for a client visit, he secures an electric vehicle using his fare card and returns it to the closest transit facility at the end of the day. Then he gets on the train, picks up his repaired bike at his transit stop (open 24 hours) and pedals home. No emissions, little congestion, an easy, pleasant commute getting work done on the way. This is a vision nearly realized in some parts of the world — and it’s within reach of all of us.
This article is about how to develop a transportation infrastructure with choices that can work for everyone. The suggestions and recommendations are drawn from a decade of experience planning, building and operating multimodal transportation centers across America.
The Multimodal Vision
The growth of mass transit plays a huge part in the vision of the new American lifestyle described above. A commitment to development, improvement and maintenance of mass transit systems is at the heart of any plan to reduce our dependence on automobiles — especially in auto meccas like California and Texas. But mass transit will not succeed unless we can overcome the challenge of the “first and last mile.” As desirable as it is to move more and more people from place to place in buses, light rail and trains, not much is accomplished if those people have to drive from their homes to the transit station, park in huge, expensive lots where each space costs between $10,000 and $75,000 depending on the facility, and then take a cab or another car to get to their place of work or recreation when they arrive at their destination. There needs to be viable choices in mobility that create a seamless end-to-end infrastructure allowing people to move around easily, efficiently, safely and economically.
With science fiction concepts like air cars and teleportation still a distance off, our best present options for solving the first and last mile dilemma are small electric vehicles like scooters and carts, shared cars and, perhaps most important, bicycles. All of these can play a part in multimodal transit centers created today.